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DOJ Orders Prosecutors To Stop Limiting 'Compassionate Releases'

The Justice Department is directing its prosecutors to stop limiting defendants' ability to seek compassionate release in most federal plea agreements, after advocates criticized the practice as cruel and against the intent of Congress, NPR reports. DOJ officials issued the order NPR detailed the practice, which curtailed peoples' ability to petition for release from prison because of severe illness or other extraordinary circumstances. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the policy seemed "wrong" and pledged to fix the issue. Some U.S. senators expressed alarm at the waivers, which they said had been used in Arizona, Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Illinois. "This is a particularly pernicious practice because 97 percent of convictions are obtained through plea agreements," said a new letter from Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and 15 other lawmakers. "In a justice system where pleading guilty is highly incentivized and defendants generally do not have leverage to push back against prosecutors, including terms in a plea agreement that require a defendant to relinquish his right to seek a review of his sentence under 'extraordinary and compelling' circumstances appears unduly coercive." the Senators wrote.

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